For many Americans, May 5 is a day to feast on delicious Mexican cuisine in celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
A staple of Mexican cuisine is guacamole, a dip whose main ingredient is a health food powerhouse: the avocado.
Regardless of whether you dip it, dunk it, or simply eat it with a fork, your body is sure to reap the healthy rewards of this deliciously smooth and beautiful fruit.
Here are six facts about the health benefits of avocados (plus a couple of nifty tips on how to keep that delicious guacamole from browning):
1) Avocados are high in potassium.
Bananas are often hailed as a great source of potassium — a nutrient that is an important part of any well-balanced diet. Multiple studies have shown that people who had diets high in potassium also had reduced blood pressure and a lowered risk of heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure.
2) They’re also a great source of vitamins C and E.
Avocados are one of the few natural foods that contain significant amounts of both vitamins C and E. Certain studies — often supported by the avocado industry, it’s worth noting — show that the two vitamins work together, a process known as antioxidant recycling, to boost the amount of antioxidants in the body.
One randomised clinical study suggested that a combination of vitamin C and E, at least in supplement form, could slow plaque build-up in the arteries of people who have high cholesterol — a dangerous process that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
3) Avocados have a protective fleshy skin.
Avocado refers both to the fruit and the tree on which the fruit grows. If you’ve ever bought a whole avocado at the store, you’ll know that the meat of the fruit is protected by a thick, leathery, bumpy skin.
Although the skin of an avocado is not edible, it does protect the delicious edible part of the fruit from any residual pesticides that sometimes get on other, unprotected fruits and vegetables like apples and broccoli. That’s one reason you’re always advised to wash most produce before eating.
Thanks to the avocado’s skin, this rule makes it less likely you’ll get your fruit with an accidental side of pesticides.
4) Avocado flesh contains cancer-fighting agents.
Take a close look at the avocado in the above picture. Notice how the center is a bright yellow whereas the outermost section is a dark green. The dark green portion of the avocado is one of the most studied parts of the avocado due to its high concentration of certain types of carotenoids.
Carotenoids are antioxidants that scientists have used to successfully fight cancer in a petri dish. We don’t know yet whether a human eating an avocado would reap any similar benefits. But your body’s ability to absorb carotenoids depends in part on the presence of dietary fat, like the loads of healthy monounsaturated fats in avocados.
One very small study suggested that reduced fat or fat free salad dressings might significantly reduce carotenoids absorption compared to full-fat dressings. However, if you really enjoy fat-free dressing, just add avocados: Another small study — supported by the California Avocado Commission — found that adding avocados to your salad could increase the amount of available carotenoids by 2 to 5 times. Larger studies from non-industry sources are needed to confirm these results.
5) Avocados are loaded with fibre.
Take a look at your average nutrition label and you’ll likely be disappointed to learn that it contains only the tiniest amounts of a key nutrient: fibre. The scary fact is that most Americans receive less than half the amount of daily fibre they need. You digest fibre slowly, making you feel full longer, and fibre also helps to relieve constipation. But that’s not all.
“There is evidence that high dietary fibre consumption lowers ‘bad’ cholesterol concentrations in the blood and reduces the risk for developing coronary artery disease, stroke and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Somdat Mahabir, a nutrition and disease expert with National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute, in an NIH blog post.
6) Avocados are also a good source of magnesium.
Avocados are also a good source of magnesium. People who are deficient in magnesium sometimes have a difficult time absorbing nutrients from other food. That’s why it’s important to include at least 300 to 400 mg of magnesium in your daily diet to make sure your body can utilise the vitamins and minerals inside of the food you’re eating.
Studies have also shown that eating enough magnesium can also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in men and help people who are in good health maintain healthy cholesterol levels. An average avocado contains about 40 mg of magnesium — about 10% of your daily value.
Once the meat of the avocado fruit is exposed to air, it generates a chemical reaction between the phenol compounds in the fruit and oxygen in the air. This reaction is what transforms your beautiful green guacamole into a brown mushy mess.
To prevent this from happening you can do a couple of things you can do, all of which attempt to inhibit that chemical reaction from taking place:
- Always make sure to squeeze some lime juice into your guacamole. The acids in the lime impede the browning process.
- Once your guacamole is finished, cover it with a piece of Saran wrap. But make sure to pat the Saran wrap down so that it’s touching the dip. That way, you reduce the amount of oxygen reaching your precious side dish.
- If you’re fresh out of Saran wrap, another way to keep oxygen out is to cover the guacamole with water. When you’re ready to serve simply drain the water.
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